NewsNative America: Road to Recovery


Pawnee tribe helps members survive pandemic

Posted at 10:31 AM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 12:12:39-05

PAWNEE, Okla. — From PPE to food distribution to individual assistance, Oklahoma's Native American tribes listen to citizens to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

"One of the things President Echohawk was able to do. He had a COVID forum that was available to the tribal members to offer their input," Jordan Kanuho, Pawnee Nation vice president, explained.

But one tribe took a unique yet simple approach to help its members.

"We have lost tribal members because of this. We have lost elders because of this. Those who carry on knowledge of our cultural ways, knowledge of our language and those kinds of things and so that is a very big impact, so there are things we are not going to get back because of this," said Kanuho.

Life in Pawnee, the Pawnee Nation headquarters, is no different from most places in America trying to survive in a pandemic by wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing good hygiene.

There might be a little less hustle and bustle than a large city, but the people are also dealing with the coronavirus's rapid spread.

"We've just recently been very impacted by COVID. My stepdaughter who resides with us was diagnosed with COVID, so we were at home for a couple of weeks with that, and then my mom and dad both had it, and it trickled on to my sister, and now both of my grandparents have it," said Jaime Maltsberger, a Pawnee Nation citizen.
Maltsberger knows firsthand the impact of COVID-19, but she also knows her tribe supports her.

"I mean, if we can stop it with one person in our household… like I said, we have seven people in our household, and we all go our separate ways. We have a teenage daughter, kids at separate schools, daycare," she said.

To help families like Maltsberger's, Pawnee Nation Planning Director Brian Kirk said the tribe uses grant money to help pay for the rehabilitation of housing ventilation systems.

"We were able to take care of many tribal members through replacing or repairing their systems to help when a family is in an isolation situation," said Kirk.

Kanuho said the tribe is also helping members by building a new fitness center to address underlying health conditions.

"Keeping our members healthy is obviously the number one priority during this time and especially with the Native Americans dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure, and those kinds of things. That being one of the bigger triggers with COVID and dealing with it, it is obviously a priority for us," said Kanuho.

Another big trigger for preventing COVID-19 is keeping homes and businesses clean and free of germs.

"We actually had a drive-through system that we did, and we worked with our local fire crew, and we did like gift bags, so they had disinfectant wipes. They had hand sanitizer. They had like Lysol, and they were just in nice little crates where they just popped the trunk, and we put it in there, and they went on their way," Kirk explained.

While the Pawnee Nation believes it is on its way to helping its citizens survive this pandemic, tribal leaders said they don't want to see history repeat itself.

"From a native perspective, this isn't the first time we've ever been faced with a public health crisis like this. Within our history, we've been faced with certain pandemics before that have completely annihilated a lot of our tribal members on an aspect, we used to have so many people in our tribe. The Pawnee Nation never was once a nation of 3,000 people… it used to be more like 30,000 people," said Kanuho.

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